Median home price: Singlefamily homes, $550,000
Residential tax rate: $11.69
Average tax bill: Single-family home, $6,799
Choice location: Addison Gallery of American Art at Phillips Academy, Andover. An astonishing collection of works of the nation's greatest painters and artists.
Cocktail party nugget: Samuel Francis Smith wrote the lyrics to "My Country, 'Tis of Thee" in 1831 while a student at the former Andover Theological Seminary. Smith titled his patriotic song "America," causing Andover to be dubbed the "Home of America."
SOURCES: Warren Group, Mass. Dept. of Revenue, Addison Gallery
THE GOODS What was once part of the vast land holdings of a Pennacook tribal chief - and sold to an English settler in the 1600s for six pounds of sterling and a coat - has evolved into a vibrant community that celebrates its rich history and takes pride in a newly acquired cosmopolitan attitude. The thriving downtown business district has family friendly restaurants and upscale boutiques, and newer residents are further drawn here by stellar schools and a short commute to high tech firms located in town or out on the nearby highways. There is commuter rail service to Boston. Fiercely protective of open space, Andover has the Shawsheen River, for canoeists and kayakers, and a portion of the 3,000-acre Harold Parker State Forest.
PROS Andover's housing stock is dominated by single-family homes, from cozy Capes in turn-key condition to sprawling Colonials with historic charm. Near the central business district, yards tend to be smaller, requiring less maintenance. The town also has its share of larger estate homes on lots of 2 acres or larger. Andover tends to be out-of-reach for most first-time home buyers, but those willing to sacrifice space for ZIP code can find a good value here. Often, there is less competition for starter homes in Andover, mainly because of the perception that everything in town comes with a price tag of $500,000 or more. The strong commercial tax base helps offset the demands on residential taxpayers.
CONS Rapid growth has strained services and schools, prompting local officials to consider budget cuts or higher taxes. Already high taxes, as well as high housing costs, have forced some residents to relocate to less expensive communities in the Merrimack Valley. Traffic congestion remains a problem in the Main Street business district.